TSN Hockey Insiders Chris Johnston, Pierre LeBrun and Darren Dreger join host Gino Reda to discuss the news of the day in the NHL

This being an Olympic year the COVID concerns are obviously on high alert, and now special attention is being paid to the All-Star Weekend and the affect it could play on the games? 

Pierre LeBrun: No question, what’s happening right now is that the NHLPA, which has concern, is pushing for stricter protocols for players at All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas. A lot of the players, of course, who will be at All-Star Weekend, will clearly also be Olympic participants, and a lot of them, in fact everyone going to the Olympics will be going on a charter directly from Las Vegas to Beijing, and the ultimate nightmare, which is shared in terms of concern from Hockey Canada, to USA Hockey, to all the federations involved in Beijing, is that your plane lands in Beijing and you have a COVID outbreak from something, perhaps, that happened in Vegas. So, there will be stricter protocols for Vegas All-Star [Weekend], which means Vegas won’t quite be Vegas for the players involved. But, it also begs the question from a lot of people around the league that I’ve talked to, why is there an All-Star Weekend in an Olympic year for the NHL? It hasn’t happened since 2002 in Salt Lake City when there was an All-Star Game in L.A. and after that the league did not have an all-star weekend the same year of an Olympics they participated in. The answer’s pretty simple, one is that it wanted to placate ESPN, its new U.S. TV partner, which wanted an All-Star Weekend, but also just the business in general. The league is trying to get through the pandemic and is trying to get back to business as usual, so it’s important for them to have an All-Star, but a lot of concern now, obviously, with Vegas before Beijing. 

Darren Dreger: The pressing business for both the NHL and the NHLPA, right now, is continuing to watch the goings-on of the New York Islanders. Now, unless something changes, be it there are more cases added to the Islanders situation, the plan is to go ahead with the New York Rangers and the New York Islanders game on Wednesday. Now, the NHL admits that they are a bit surprised at the number of breakouts across the NHL to this point of the regular season, mostly because there’s almost across the board vaccination in the NHL, but as far as the NHL is concerned the good news is case by case, most of those who have been impacted, infected by COVID-19, have only sustained mild symptoms. 

Elsewhere, as legalized single-game betting is ready to make its mark on the game could we also see the next generation of fantasy hockey very soon as well? 

Chris Johnston: Yeah, the future is here and it’s going to manifest itself in a groundbreaking deal announced later this week by the Ultimate Fantasy Hockey League. What this is going to involve is having three NHL players auction themselves as NFT’s. Now, what makes this different from previous NFT offerings is that the players themselves will actually share in any fantasy hockey earnings attached to their real life performance on the ice, and so, this UFHL already exists, there’s big money in it for people that play fantasy hockey, and now if you buy one of those player’s NFT’s and he scores two goals in a game, well you get paid and he gets paid. So it’s a different level of interactivity between fans and the players themselves. 

We’re almost a quarter of the way through the NHL season and the Canucks aren’t showing any real signs of turning this thing around. What are you hearing out of Vancouver now?

Darren Dreger: Well, more from an angry fan base that there’s a strong appetite for change, be it change in management, change in coaching, just some form of change, that’s what we continue to hear. General manager Jim Benning is shielding himself away from the media, from the noise outside, so he’s committed to making his club better. The coaching staff, their commitment is to try and help this group through a real tough start to the regular season. Meanwhile, you’ve got the agents who are now fielding the calls amid all the speculation, trying to separate fact from fiction. So, truthfully, it’s just another day of turmoil in the season that is for the Vancouver Canucks. 

We’re 11 weeks to puck drop for men’s hockey at the Winter Olympic Games – what’s the status of the host team now?

Chris Johnston: The fate of China’s men’s Olympic entry hangs in the balance as the IIHF prepares to talk on Friday, they have a scheduled call. This has been a situation they’ve been monitoring closely, there’s been concerns the Chinese men’s team might not be competitive enough to play in this game. Essentially on that call on Friday the IIHF will review two test games the Chinese team played last week in the KHL, they lost both of them, and decide whether or not to make a recommendation to the International Olympic Committee to replace China for those games with Norway, or to go ahead with the plan as it is. Remember, China is going to play Team USA and Team Canada if it remains status quo, and so there’s some concern that those could be lopsided scores if that ends up happening. 
Puck drop for the men at the Olympics is February the 9th, the women begin a week earlier, February 2nd.